Belly’s gonna get ya….

“I’m full, I’m just not ready to stop eating.” These were the last words to go through my mind, and possibly the cause of a lifetime of having four more kilos than I would prefer. I am NEVER mentally prepared for the end of my meal. In fact, no matter how delicious it is, about half way through, I start fantasising about what is going to come next. I look in awe at the 50% of clients in work who refuse the dessert menu, proclaiming themselves to have “assez mangé” -eaten enough. (Although it might be that I have in fact been offering them the ‘desert’ menu instead, as was pointed out to me by a helpful but prissy client today -the dessert/desert minefield equally hazardous en français). This “assez mangé” is a feeling with which I am not overly familiar. Possibly because when I go out to a restaurant, I will often have spent the previous week or so fantasising about what I will have, and the five to ten minutes it usually takes me to imbibe it is not quite enough to make up for this. However, having tried on an old pair of jeans this morning and found them positively roomy, it transpires that working in ‘restaurantation’ is very good for the santé, and the daily scoops of ice cream haven’t caught up with me yet. ‘Yet’ being the operative word here though, I fear. It is only a matter of time before my metabolism twigs that something is amiss here. “ICE CREAM, you say?? And CHEESE??? EVERY DAY, you say? Thyroid, what is the meaning of this?? This woman is 32 years of age, this cannot continue. Fatten her up, immediately. And give her spots while you’re at it. She deserves them.” Christmas is sure to help matters though, and the jeans will soon be mocking me again, with their sneakily moveable buttons.

I’ve noticed that the multiple daily errors have abated significantly in work. Finally. They made a brief reappearance the other night when a bunch of people in headscarves ordered five complicated versions of hot chocolate -Muslims LOVE hot chocolates apparently. (I hate making them and feel an article for the Daily Mail coming on about “How Hot Chocolate Made Me Racist”). I got overwhelmed and all of a sudden recommenced dropping utensils and generally making a hames of things. It was then that I realised -Oh. It was stress all along. That’s was what that thing was, making me borderline malfunctional. This is a terrible habit I have, of not recognising that I am stressed, until I am no longer stressed. Had you asked me two weeks ago whether I was stressed in work, I would have vehemently denied it, and said that no, I wasn’t stressed, I was just useless. However, I can now see that it was the other way around. I’m often like that in general -I tend not to notice inconveniences and irritations. For example, I’m forever finding mystery bruises that I have no recollection of acquiring. (And I’m not always drunk, so it isn’t that either…) I had a dentist once who could not understand how I didn’t remember giving my a tooth enough of a bash to blacken it permanently, and a doctor who couldn’t understand how my dislocated toe was as much of a mystery to me as it was to her. However, this is no great feat of stoicism -it is generally just not being terribly aware of what’s going on in my body. And sometimes outside of it too. Unless,of course, it is a runny nose. THEN, both I and all around me me know all about it. One of the worst forms of misery, if you ask me, and annoyingly, the one thing you’re not really allowed to complain about. “Oh sure it’s just a head cold”. JUST a head cold!!! I need my head!! For crucial activities, like seeing, thinking and BREATHING! A head cold impairs the one bodily function that is so crucial that you will last about four minutes without it, and yet, the majority of the Western world seem not to be too bothered by it. I can only conclude that I am getting THE WORST head colds of all of the people. But maybe I am just a whinge bag. However, fortunately, this particular whinge bag has finally calmed the frick down, and is now a passable waitress. In fact, I had my first fight with a customer last night, of which I am very proud! Normally, this would not be a source of pride, but it was in French, and therefore to be celebrated. Plus, the cause of the argument was not my fault in the slightest, which in itself is cause for opening a bottle of something fizzy and alcoholic.

I have intentions of doing that very thing this evening as it happens, and the Hungarian (which makes her sound like a warrior from the Middle Ages) and the German and I are meeting for a ‘girls night’. We were supposed to also have the Mexican who I have never met, but apparently she is not available. We are having an apero or two in my place to start out with, and heading afterwards for the Christmas markets. I am considering slugging a bottle cider all by myself in advance, so that they don’t get alarmed at the pace at which I always inhale my first drink, but this notion is niggling at me in a way that doesn’t quite sit right, so I’d better not.. Oh she’s Irish alright.

Tables and transcendentalism

2am

I just caught myself in the middle of the following inner dialogue, after reading a short article by Marian Keyes, where she describes taking a sudden turn in which she developed an obsession with using chalk paint to upgrade household items. The inner dialogue went like this “That was a nice story. I liked all the blue tables. God I had a great time reading about the blue furniture.” And I really did!!! Now call me a philistine if you will (and I’m sure you will), but I’ve always considered imagery in literature a bit of a waste of time. Skim skim skim, I thinks to myself, get to the juicy bits -you know, with the STORY, and the PEOPLE, and the TALKING. The good stuff. But here I am, lost in a world of turquoise blue tables, which I find soothing, delicious, and dare I say it, therapeutic, to visualise. Kind of like a salt bath, but for my brain. It was really lovely!! And then I realised that it isn’t that I don’t like imagery in books, I just have very odd tastes. It’s like when I look at a still life, or a painting of a meadow of allegedly lovely flowers. YAWN. BOOORING. NEXT. Cold, they leave me, cold, I tell you. I would even go so far as to say that I find them objectionable. However, there are one or two notable exceptions -I have just recalled being moved to tears in the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, by his Almond Blossom painting. So moved in fact, that I couldn’t bring myself to buy the poster of it that I wanted, in case I ruined it by over exposure to a substandard copy, and soiled the sanctity of the moment, with our post-post-modern obsession with preserving every fleeting moment. (Photographs, to my mind, are the ultimate denial of the transience of life -but this is a viewpoint that is neither popular nor profitable in the Instagram Era). The Van Gogh painting -you know the one I’m talking about -all delicate white petals and silver-greyish branches on a blue sky background -may finally prove to me that images can have emotional power. This may seem odd to the more educated and cultured of you, but this is a concept I have struggled with for quite some time. Whether there is any value much in looking at a painting, or are we all just codding ourselves, paying extortionate amounts of money to discuss “the artist’s use of loight”. Or white paint, as it is more commonly known. In the past, I have satisfied myself on this matter with explanations that get complicated and centre around transcendentalism, but prior to Mr. Van Gogh and this moment of beauty in the midst of his Terrible and Awful depression, I had never quite found myself having an out of body moment and contemplating the heights to which human experience can rise. However, upon further reflection, and back in my dark room with white walls (and two lesser celebrated posters from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam), maybe I just really like turquoise.

12 hours later; 2pm

Yes I lost the plot a bit in the middle of the night, and I apologise. I’m on my day off, and find myself in a small restaurant very near the apartment, where they serve up very bad quality meat at very high prices, by rude staff who never give me what I ask for. In fact, the only person who has been nice to me here is the guy that came in one day to fix the coffee machine. However, I have become strangely addicted to the place, and I keep coming back! I walked past countless viable alternatives today, and still chose here, to spend an hour and a half gnawing my way through what they call steak. Alarmingly, there is a woman beside me commenting that her food -exactly what I am eating -is “trop bon” -too good. I suppose what is more alarming is that I can’t seem to stop returning. Their coffee is nice, and their Wifi is second to none. Maybe that’s the attraction. That or it’s an inexplicable feat of masochism. I really hope it’s the Wifi.

Visiting Vercors: being led up the garden path

9:30am

Well it transpires that my incompetence has extended to my personal life as well as my professional life. I got up at 6:30 this morning, and launched myself onto my tired feet at this ungodly hour. I had it on good authority (the weather forecast) that we would have cold temperatures but sunshine today, and I had an ambition to get myself to the mountains. There have been a number of failed attempts so far, previous plans being thwarted by bank holidays, buses, and finding work, but this time I was determined. I had given myself ten minutes leeway, in case I couldn’t find the bus, and was full sure I had left myself with ample wiggle room. However, in my hasty Google planning yesterday, i forgot that everything in France is highly bureacracised, and that to hop on a bus, buy a ticket and GO somewhere would be far too much to hope for. Naturally, office finding and lengthy queuing are in order. So having found the bus for Vercors, and on the second sprint found the ticket office, I stood in the queue until 7:49, watching the monitor telling me that the bus was still at the platform. I had tried the ticket vending machine to no avail, and joined the long queue -ignoring the lady at the empty counter who was clearly only stationed there for celebrities and royalty.  Equally naturally, the bus departed on time, at 7:50 -apparently long waits are only necessary for public services when it is highly inconvenient. Of course I was still in the queue. The wrong one, evidently. If I had paused my panic and read the sign, I would have seen that the queen’s first advisor was in fact the one selling bus tickets, and not train tickets. So I could have made it after all. Je m’énerve. I’m annoying myself. So now I’ve opted for the later time, and have lost all hope of ever finding a mountain without a car. I can SEE them, I just can’t REACH them.

Fail to prepare and all that.. (This plan incidentally was my third option for finding mountains, and nothing is guaranteed even if I get there, as I am awaiting the advice of a tourist office adviser in Vercors to see if such a thing is even possible -the buses generally refuse to take you to the mountains midweek). I am now back home in defeat, waiting for the next bus at 10:10, which is unlikely to leave me with much time for rambling around Vercors. There is a lot of failure associated with finding your pieds in France. Even more with getting your pieds on the montagnes, apparently -even the lady at the bus station told me to get a car. But it doesn’t help when you’re an optimistic ape who doesn’t read signs. Moral of the story? Sleep deprivation doesn’t work kids. It doesn’t matter how many espressos you drink.

But now, having had the time to open Facebook messenger….. Copine alert!!! A message from Karim last night, advising me that it is cold in France (clearly he saw the weather forecast too…) and to mind myself when I go out!! WTAF is going on in his mind???!

10:10am

I am on a bus!!! Who knows where it will take me exactly, but at least I’ve gotten this far..
I realised on the way to the bus station (round 2) that I still feel like I am only pretending to live in France. Even though I now have an apartment, a job, and you never know, maybe in time even a social security number. I run into people I know in the centre-ville, and I have someone possibly trying to seduce me into Islam. It all SOUNDS very much like I live here, but it still feels like I’m only playing a game. Which I am in a way, having run away from reality and kind of joined the circus -which has been a lifelong dream, if you must know. In fact, I’ve just realised that moving to France with a view to climbing up high things (rocks, mountains, whatever) isn’t a million miles away from the career path I chose at age 4, which was to join the circus and be one of the acrobats who climbed the ropes.  Christ, do we decide anything independently? I’ve long suspected that our major life decisions are driven not by rationality, but by an almost pre-conscious force, that is driven by much more primitive instincts and early-life formations. This has in fact been well documented in several prestigious psychology publications, but this proves it for me. My four year old fascination with the blonde lady in the blue sequinned bikini has led me to what many may interpret as an early mid-life crisis! I was always advanced for my age…

10:53am

You will not believe it. For some unspecified reason, the extraordinarily pretty office de tourisme has a special closure for Weds 29th and Thurs 30th November. The curse of the fermature exceptionelle strikes again….

Why France, WHY???? Toujours pareil, always the same, as the friendly bus driver told me. There was a promising looking sign outside with mountain routes, but it seemed to think I had three to six months to spare, not recognising that my last bus home is 6pm this evening, and only suggested routes ranging from 60 to 350km.

 

I took a stroll up through the town for a bit of investigation instead, now that I was there. It was DESERTED. Like, abandoned looking, tumbleweed gently rolling across the empty streets. All it’s missing is a Wild West style saloon, with no one there but a swinging door and a smoking gun. Vercors is clearly a skiing resort, but can’t think what else to do with itself for the rest of the year. Typical French attitude -they have no idea what to do with time off and just go to sleep. So I walked through the village -every shutter in the place closed and the wind whistling through the town -and out the other side. The were a few bedraggled looking signs claiming ‘overture 7/7 jours‘, (open 7 days a week) but this was either wild optimism or blatant lying.

On a whim I went towards the opposing mountains and followed the sound of water. Lo and behold didn’t I find a friendly yellow sign, pointing me to a number of possible walks of varying length!

Success!! Who needs tourist offices!! Actually me. I do. As everyone knows, those yellow signs only ever want to lead you up the garden path -quite literally in this instance; the path started at the back of a few of the shuttered up houses. So up the garden path I went, panting and wincing my way up what seemed to be very steep slopes.

Now I’m a great women for going UP things, with little consideration or thought given to getting back DOWN things. It was only when I turned around, after reaching a wide field with no further  directions (that’s yellow signs for you), that I realised I appeared to have, without noticing, mounted a red ski slope.

Tricksy that was, to pick my way back down.. But I did it. My left knee had an awful lot to say about the matter, but we’ve discussed it and I’ve promised it I will bring it to a physiotherapist before I bring it to another mountain. I also promised it a chocolate crepe with ice cream later, which appeased it no end.

So Vercors was an interesting trip, and the place is very beautiful, particularly in that gorgeous almost ephemeral frosty winter sunshine weather that is best experienced at altitude.

I did succeed in getting a bit of a hike in the mountains, and it wasn’t until I left on the bus that I realised I had stayed in the city almost without exception for a full two months, which is a most unlike me thing to do. Sadly, it looks like I won’t be repeating the experience any time soon, and purchasing a car is a long way off, unless I decide to purchase a set of crutches to go with it. So for now, crepes and ice cream it is.

Fawlty Towers: when fiction becomes fact

It is not that great a source of sadness to me, but I can never again watch Fawlty Towers. I have developed a sudden and powerful empathy with Manuel that I fear can never been reversed. For I am the clumsy, bumbling Manuel of our good creperie.

I can’t explain it, but somehow, when I translated myself into French, I became incompetent. (I must have used Google Translate). The amount of effing mistakes I am making!! It is unforgivable, and whatever about my co-workers, I don’t think I will ever forgive myself. The problem is, these are not mistakes of linguistics, for the most part! They are obvious, no-cop-on errors. Last night I spent many dark moments dejectedly reflecting on the lack of foresight involved in delaying placing an order until people had their aperitifs. Good god, what kind of an idiot am I?? And there are many more. Table placement is another challenge. You can put this down to my limited visual spatial awareness if you will, but for the life of me I cannot seem to seat someone at a table for two without being told that no, I should have put them at a different table.

Now admittedly, there are two aspects to the errors. Or maybe three. The first is that my brain is so busy concentrating on speaking a language that I don’t speak, that once it achieves this it feels proud of itself and decides to put its feet up for the evening. Disoster. And I can only imagine that this is what poor Manuel has been enduring all these years. While being clattered about the head by John Cleese. The second aspect is that I have discovered it is the great hobby of French people to go around correcting other people at every given opportunity. Being told I have done the wrong thing at every single turn (even in the rare occasions it’s not my fault, defending myself seems effortful and pointless), I am reminded of a book I read before I came here. It was written by an English woman who moved to Paris, and was utterly miserable, and even though she was not emulating incompetent fictional Spanish waiters, she was worn out from people stopping her in the street and chastising her. Genuinely, all the time -she was told she was using the lift wrong, walking around the park wrong, and I remember she reported that one woman gave out to her for having the wrong kind of coat on her son. So maybe there is an aspect of that going on as well. They all seem to have a touch of the Mrs. G.s, and her rigid patterns for cutlery arrangement. The third possibility of course, is that I am useless. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that I have had many, many, MANY jobs, most of which I have been reasonably good at (with the possible exception of lying to landlords on the phone and telling them that our company had prospective tenants for them -this was not my strong point, no no). BUT I am getting better. Soon I will remember the importance of rinsing the plates when Brigitte is there, but Not when Alice is there, and of leaving the bucket IN the sink instead of BESIDE the sink for the person who opens in the morning. But only when it is Jeannette, Jackie is more flexible about such things. Aaargh. However, all has recently been forgiven by all of the above, because my work colleagues have realised that for some reason or another, I get lots of tips! Which is a great advantage when all the tips are divided between everyone, and has increased my popularity exponentially. Maybe the customers feel sorry for me, but maybe it is just that I am smiling at people and trying very hard to do what they ask. In other words, I am not French..

On a linked but separate note, I have made a new and dangerous discovery: Espressos. A little shot of alertness and happiness, that I thought I could never get used to, but OH. I’m still not mad about the taste, but who gives a rats arse about the taste?!!!! Indeed, rats arses may not be a million miles from said taste, but it can be sweetened with a tiny drop of milk. But the HIT!! Heart racing happiness!! In a cup! Everyone else in work was downing them goodo, so I thought to myself that I’d get in on the action. I love working in a place where basically mainlining performance enhancing substances is par for the course. Who needs sleep, I hear you exclaim? Not I! Which is for the best, because I may never again be blessed with its mercy… Still, I love them. And I plan to continue in this vein. Putting it directly into my veins, if necessary. But I promise to keep you updated if it gets to this, so that a low level intervention can be staged. But people of France be warned: there is a jittery waitress at large, whose eyes are popping out of her head, and who will refuse to give you Un Déca.

So now that I’ve imbibed three in rapid succession, to get me through the lunch hour, I’ve suddenly remembered the text message I got last night… “Coucou Sarah, ça va ?” It was Karim. Messaging from Tunisia. I assumed he was checking if his parcels had arrived, but he did not seem overly interested in my reports regarding same. No, he was messaging to see how I was, and did I want something from Tunisia? Like WHAT, exactly???? This made me very uncomfortable. Was he offering to bring me a present? And wanting me to ask for it?? QUESTION MARK!!! This chancer better not start thinking I am one of his copines, or he will find himself very violently disabused of the notion..

Personal hygiene is over-rated

Just what does it say about you, when faced with a choice of whether it is more important to make your apartment clean or make yourself clean, that you choose the apartment??? Every time. My Hungarian is coming over in half an hour, and it seems that there is nothing like a dose of anticipated shame to get you up and at em with the rubber gloves. As for me, I’m filthy, but I don’t think I smell so I’m hoping she won’t notice.

Karim has just departed for Tunisia for the next ten days, so it was a good time to start a quick “apartment-is-all-mine” spritz of the place anyway. I’ve been looking forward to this sole-ownership since I moved in, but now that it’s come around I’m actually going to miss him!! Even if he did cover the nicest feature in our apartment -our nice black glass and white veneer table -with a great wrinkled monstrosity that he thinks is a table cloth. In reality it is a large piece of grey lino with a design that looks like bar-codes and television static. I can forgive this however, because he’s great fun and good company. BUT: he does tend to somewhat alarmingly underestimate me.  On the way out the door, Tunisia bound, bags in hand, he told me not to open the door to strangers while he was away and to message him if the light bulb blows or anything, and he’ll call someone to take care of it!! It was kind of sweet, in a totally condescending way..

He gave me some very exciting news this morning though, which was that I had been talking in my sleep. He said he couldn’t understand what I said in English but he understood the French. The FRENCH!!! Talking, in my sleep, in French!! This is the most marvellous mark of progress, and I am Delighted. I might have been just listing off numbers, but sleep-French is sleep-French is sleep-French. I have decided to appoint myself a goal however. One of the usual perks of the job as a waitress or a barperson is being allowed to flirt with the customers. It’s more than allowed -encouraged, even, and I find that I miss that. I’ve only had one decent opportunity so far, but it was with great sadness that I walked away from the table, mute and dejected, as opposed to swishing my hips and fluttering my eyelashes. (Both of which I can do very well in English). So I have decided that when I can flirt in French and concoct a ‘plan de drague’ (literally, a plan of ‘pull’), I will be satisfied with my level. So that is the mission. As a purely linguistic exercise, of course. Although I suppose washing myself would be a positive first step all the same….

Karim is not a morning person….

Karim simply cannot get his head around why someone who isn’t working until 11:30 would even consider getting out of bed before that, let alone at 8:30. Which in my head is late, but in Karim’s is an abomination of industry. He spends most mornings snoozing or grunting sleepily around the apartment. I know better than to try and talk to him at such times -I have good experience with a best friend and a brother who are equally terrifying in the mornings. But he soon livens up, and is a great man for sharing information about his varied and chequered love life. He also likes to ask very personal questions, like as to whether I have ever been pregnant. But mainly the questions centre around what in God’s earth (or Allah’s) I could find to be doing three hours before work.

It seems that sleeping is a great hobby among the waiters and waitresses of France, and my work colleagues also seem to spend a great deal of time engaging in same when they are off. One of them, like Karim, tells me that he doesn’t really like having days off, because he is bored and has nothing to do, except watch the start of movies and fall asleep. I did somewhat idolise the famed lack of industriousness of the French, but I didn’t expect it to extend to their social lives. But it makes sense I guess. This particular work colleague has worked in the crêperie for a mere three years and has no aspirations to go back to his original career. He is single, but apparently so are all the rest of us who work there. The boss is threatening to put a sign on la fenêtre, announcing that all staff are 100% single. Now I liked Amsterdam and all, but I do draw the line at being advertised in a window.

So today I FINALLY got my bank card. Apparently it was sitting in my account in the university waiting for me to collect it. However, no one was about to tell me this. Or if they did I didn’t know it. Still, step one accomplished. (I have attempted online registration but that was apparently a step too far and they have blocked my account until tomorrow, for security reasons). Next step -commence attempts to secure a carte vitale. I’m told this can take up to 11 months, and no amount of stamping and shouting will change this. Karim apparently tried crying but that didn’t work either. It’s tomorrow’s mission. Tomorrow will be my first day off in 9 days, and I’m looking forward to it. However, had I known I was going to get to go on the tram to the university bank today, I would have been looking forward to that as well, so it seems I’m easily pleased. #trams4life

Ode to an expat waitress: bumpy, clumsy and inarticulate

There is a strange phenomenon in work that I hadn’t expected, in the dynamic between me and English speaking customers. I had imagined myself chattering confidently with such customers, all of us conspiratorially celebrating our shared Anglicisation. However, I had not factored in the motivations of said customers, who have no interest in conspiring with me, and fall broadly into two categories. There are the ones who are not confident in their French, who assume that I am French and are terrified of offending my French sensibilities by speaking English. They look at me nervously and uncertainly when I speak to them in English, convinced that I am internally en faisant du jugement. So we continue a charade in which we all together pretend to speak French, because we are in France, even though we all have a perfectly good common language at our disposal. The second category, the ones who speak better French than me, are belligerently insistent on demonstrating their fluent French at all times, and are having none of me with my hopeful glances of ‘en anglais, si vous préférez??’ They talk even louder in French and look at me directly and uncomfortably in the eye, as if to convey ‘WE ARE SPEAKING FRENCH, BECAUSE WE SPEAK GOOD FRENCH AND DON’T YOU DARE INSULT ME BY SPEAKING TO ME IN ENGLISH’. And so, the charade continues…

By contrast, all the Actually French people are truly baffled by my accent -I dread to think of what I must sound like -and frequent ‘guess the accent’ games ensue at the tables. They almost invariably sidle up to me and ask if I am Italian. Naturally I am highly flattered that I might be mistaken for any Mediterranean type, but respond with pleasure that I am in fact irlandaise. Unless of course they mean the overweight Mediterranean types, with the hairy faces… then I am distinctly insulted. But Karim tells me that it is definitely because “ils parlent français comme toi”-“they speak French like you.” If this wasn’t followed by so much laughing I wouldn’t mind too much… But I might just try and confuse things anyway by increasing my hand gestures and throwing in the odd “Prego”. That will drive the customers completely over the edge no doubt, during their four hour approach to a chocolate crêpe. (Four bites, is what it would take me -four bites).

Otherwise, petit à petit, I am getting better at the job. Now this is by no means a smooth or graceful progression -no no. Bumpy, clumsy and inarticulate would be a more accurate description of this non-linear process. I’m thinking of it as a ‘mistakes by elimination’ approach -it is generally easier for me to attempt something the wrong way and wait for the panicked “Sarah non, non, non!” cries of my co-workers, than to figure out the French way to ask how to do it. I do find their reactions a bit overly dramatic. My plan to mop up a small spill with a serviette was met with a three-person chorus of dismay that would normally be merited only by a an attempt to set fire to a table full of small children and puppies. All of said chorus, incidentally, we’re sitting on their arses watching me, but as all of them have worked there for at least 700 years, they are all entitled to sit around watching my every move. And criticising it. However, soon I will have made ALL of the mistakes, and there will be none left to make. And then I will be perfect.

Walking to and from work as it happens has become one of the pleasures of my day. In the mornings and the day time, I like to walk by the river, from where I can see the mountains and do my daily assessment of how much snow has fallen. (Very little for the moment, but it’s pretty nonetheless). In the evenings, I take the alternative, and slightly more populated route, through the town. The particular part of town I walk through is quite an old part, and takes in a wide beautiful square, surrounded by a large cathedral, the theatre and a few tourist restaurants. (I have a job here now, which entitles me to distance myself from and judge said tourists). The rest of the way home brings me down narrow cobbled streets, which make a pleasing clunky echo when my boots meet the pavement on my walk home after a night shift. The buildings are high and traditional, and I clunk away the time imagining all the glamorously French things that must have happened here throughout history. I have this very vague and mixed up fantasy image that amalgamates misplaced historical icons, such as Marie Antoinette and Frank Sinatra, having a great time together on these streets. Smoking cigars in long holders and consorting with glamorous guys n dolls at the picture houses and such like. I know my fantasies have absolutely zero links to reality, but they are my fantasies and I’m keeping them. They make me happy.

Conversations between self and self

Now let’s be clear. I do not wish to be mistaken for any shape, form or even semblance of a Freudian, but I have noticed of late, an increasing number of direct conversations between my Id and my Ego. Self and self. Plural. I have been addressing myself directly, and sometimes I even respond. I am interpreting this as too much time alone, as opposed to early-onset schizophrenia, but the conversations are becoming more and more elaborate… Sometimes the two are together, in the ‘we’ format -for example “we are NOT eating bread and Nutella at this hour of the night”, but other times they take the more accusing ‘I and you’ format. For example, one will look at the other’s reflection accusingly in the mirror and note the enormous black panda eyes and irritated sinuses. “What did you do???” It will demand. (Of itself. ) “I know, I know”, it will reply. “It was the bread and Nutella. I’ll quit the dairy soon, I promise”. They are not always food related, these conversations, but I have started to wonder whether they are cause for alarm. Does everyone do this? I mean, I know we all mentally talk to ourselves, but a two-way dialogue??? Even in this very moment, such a dialogue occurred. “Come on come on, you want the physio exercises to be done before 10:30-the physio must be done”
“(Sulky harrumph)”
“Come on, then after, I promise, I’ll let you back on the blog. I promise”.
Hmmm.

However, if this is the price to be paid for having loads of time to myself, then I am more than willing to pay it!! When I am not working, the space I have is great. Incidentally, having gotten this job has proved more satisfying than I ever could have imagined. Okay, so for the moment, while I am there, I’m a little stressed, but that is normal when you are two days into a new job. But outside of the job, I feel like I have never been less stressed. I do not worry about the work when I am not there, and honestly, for the first time in months -if not years -I actually feel like I’m OFF. Maybe it’s just in comparison to the last few months, but I suspect it’s been longer. Life has a very fast pace at home, and it’s constant planning and multi-tasking -forever packing a bag, or exercising, or meal-planning, or filling out forms, or foolishly trying to change electricity providers in search of a better deal. Now some might say that’s just adult life Sarah, which will catch up with you in France as well, but for now, it’s great. I have time -and more importantly, mental energy -to sit around writing blogs, watching Netflix, learning French or buying jeans. I even want to do these things! It could of course be argued that there is a more significant price to be paid than having dueling internal conversationalists, which is having effectively cut out all friend and family commitments. That was a drastic one, admittedly, but advanced telecommunication technology (and €55 a fucking month to eMobile) means that this hasn’t been as stark a separation as one might expect. Although my mother is still refusing to learn how to press three buttons on WhatsApp to send me pictures (nothing but stubbornness if you ask me), we can, through a simple process of emailing and note-taking, still complete the Sunday Independent crossword together every week. I can also arrange phone calls with friends while we are both out walking, and a bit of swift narration can make me feel like I’m back in my old neighbourhood. (“Where are you now?” “I’m outside Aldi” “Oh grand we’re nearly home”.) But honestly, this feeling of relaxation, of actually owning the time off, is spectacular, and I’m really enjoying it. Give me about five minutes to fill it with commitments, I know, but like I said, For Now, I love it.

I am also sleeping better than I have in years. Now it could be the Tunisian climate in Apartment 1b (I always sleep well in hot countries), but for whatever reason, I fall asleep and Stay Asleep! Until my alarm! And I don’t even want to get up when it rings! Everyone should emigrate. If only for their circadian rhythms.

Sure I speak French, but please God don’t ask me a question

I heard somewhere, sometime, that if you do everything within your power to achieve a goal, the universe will provide. Now read into that what you will, but today the universe provided me with a bona fide job in a bona fide crêperie. Do you remember the crêperie that I was lusting after before Amsterdam? The very one that got me off my ass and to a computer to steal a CV from the Internet?? Well they hired me. Proving that copyright laws are made to be broken. I had a trial run from 11:30 to 14:00 today, and they are happy to keep me on! Delira avec mon staighre, so I ham.

As an aside, Karim has recently started using a landline, with a handset he borrowed from the 1980s, which he has inexplicably set to “loudspeaker”. At this very moment, there is a woman, who I can only assume is related to him, shrieking loudly at him in Arabic. Life is mad.

As for my previous colocataire, Mrs. G, didn’t she show up in the crêperie today!!! Randomly, with her friend that I had met before! However although I am now getting more skilled at showing people to their tables and asking if they would like “autres choses”, my social skills en français are a bit below par, and between that and the first-day-nerves I was struck quite dumb and barely got past beaming and bonjouring. But it’s a winning mix that, I reckon I can’t go wrong. However, I absolutely cannot initiate doing the 2 kisses, the ‘bises’, and Karim has warned me that people will think I’m weird if I don’t do them. Mrs. G’s friend was indeed looking at me very strangely, but I can’t imagine that lurching at her with my face would have made the situation any better. However, I followed up this encounter by showing off to Everyone in the Crêperie that I knew a Person -yes a Person -in their lovely city. I think they all doubted my French when I tried to explain that I had lived with this woman for a month. I can see how from the outside this may seem like the ramblings of a babbling foreigner, but I spoke truth! There is a very small but visible mark on the refrigerator in her apartment to prove it.

The crêperie staff seem very nice so far anyway, although they have all evidently worked there since the beginning of time. The other waitress who was on with me today has been there 15 years, while her mother, in the kitchen, has been there 18 years. The Breton man who owns the place doesn’t look quite old enough to have supported such long-term employment -and I had a good look at him to verify this, as he tends to stand uncomfortably close and looks me overly sincerely in the eyes. However, it must be so. He speaks in a nice low voice and I don’t think I made too many mistakes today. He said it was clear that I had worked as a waitress before (he does not need to know that this was a good 16 years ago) and the other waitress, whose name I will remember tomorrow I hope, said my French was very good. As long as Karim doesn’t show up in the restaurant, with his smirking at my stuttering (considerably increasing said stuttering, I might add) my cover will not be blown. There was a lady in the wash up who insisted I was ‘piquing’ her fingers by putting the cutlery in the basin the wrong way up (which I most certainly WAS NOT), but these people are bound to be there too. She told me in one instance not to scrape the plates as she would be left with nothing to do, but later came to me demanding to know the meaning of an unscraped plate. What can I do?? She was generally nice and friendly all the same. It’s a tiny team of people, but so far I like it.

I spent the rest of the afternoon celebrating my employment by spending all my imaginary future wages on jeans and jumpers. No I still haven’t bought the boots. But the rain has stopped you see. I don’t need them now. Not as much as I need more flimsy shirts with birds on them anyway. (I can already see the next blog forming in the distance…. It will take the shape of a seven-versed lament bemoaning the inability of flimsy patterned shirts to keep your feet warm…)

So the great advantages of employment: 1. I don’t have to worry about being income-less, and can finally stop beating myself up for wasting money on the wrong sized bin bags and a fancy folder with eight multicoloured pockets. (Actually that’s not true, it was €12.99 and I’m still ashamed of myself. I told myself it was in lieu of a filing cabinet, but if I had gone to IKEA first I could have probably BOUGHT a filing cabinet with my €12.99). But I have felt a great sense of ease and relaxation, to know that I don’t have to agonise over buying every cup of coffee. It’s a good feeling. 2. I HAVE A PURPOSE IN LIFE AGAIN!! That purpose may take the shape of rapidly serving crêpes and galettes to homesick Bretons, but it beats hanging around the apartment watching Netflix and traipsing the town en cherchant un emploi. And purposes is purposes. 3. Hopefully, this job will be a way to keep improving my French, and I don’t have to worry about having no French outlet when Karim goes on his holidays to start up his somewhat shady gaming studio in Tunisia. (Yes, life is mad, but more on Karim at a later stage). 4. I really like being a waitress. This place looks like it could get really busy too, and I love that feeling of having all the balls in the air. 5. I can start building things into my free time on regular basis soon, when I know my regular timetable. For example I can sign up to classes, and plan activities. My free time has also actually become free time, rather than work-searching and life-organising time, which will be nice. 5. IT IS MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!! I wanted to come to France, learn some French and find some work, and so far I have come to France, learned some French, and found some work! Keeping said work might be another story, but apparently if you can behave yourself for two months here they’ll give you a permanent contract, the eejits. That, however, brings me to the disadvantages of being employed: 1. I don’t know how they are going to feel about the fact that after just 6 weeks of work, I am planning to skip off home to Ireland for a week and a half. That could jeopardise the old contract quite nicely. Not sure when best to broach this topic, but probably not in the first few days anyway. 2. The nature of this work leaves me with very little free time in the evenings, which limits opportunities for expanding my circle of friends here. BUT there must be plenty people working in the service industry, who find ways to socialise and do sports. We can see… 3. No i don’t really have a number 3. All in all, happy out!!

I ate some chocolate too to celebrate. And as a we’re on the topic of chocolate, I might as well get it out of my system. It is only now that I am willing to admit to what happened on the night of Saturday 4th November, when I got independently and stociously drunk, and ate probably a half a kilogram of dark chocolate. It was a bad one. But now that I’ve confessed, I feel better.

That reminds me, I had another interview this morning as well, in a chocolaterie. The lady said she had already hired someone for the position advertised, but that she liked hiring foreigners (what kind of a thing to say is that??!) and might give me a call. However I think I blew it on the way out the door, when I refused the chocolate she offered me. This may have come across as lack of interest, but should actually have been interpreted as fear. I really just wanted to get out of there before anyone asked me a question. Questions=very scary. Even the simplest ones are always encrypted in some form of native jargon that renders them incomprehensible, and the general result is massive shame, especially when you realise they have just asked you what your name is. It’s tough, pretending your way through France, but evidently, so far it’s working!! Continue reading

It’s not supposed to rain in FRANCE

Honestly, I am not sure how I ever fitted in a job. It is 2pm, and I am struggling to figure out what I have achieved since 8am this morning. Suffice to say I have not yet left the house. The incessant rain doesn’t help, mind you, but it seems to have taken me half the day to achieve what I would normally have done in an hour after work. WTAF. What the Actual Fluck. I’ve showered-admittedly an achievement in itself but hardly cause for celebration -I’ve done my physio (without too much moaning), breakfasted, snacked and lunched, and done multo-job searching on the Internet, but REALLY?? Six hours??? Tormented I am. Someone once described this phenomenon to me as being like Boyle’s Law of physics, where all the particles of a gas spread out to fill the available space -the small jobs of the day can spread out magnificently, making you feel like you have no time to do anything, but in reality achieving very little. Fecking Boyle. I never liked him anyway, the productive bastard.

More worryingly, all this free time is turning me into quite the menace on social media. She who is by nature a complete silent lurker on Facebook has so far this morning shared about six Donald Trump related articles and gone frantically ‘liking’ anything that denounces him. (Do you denounce Donald and all his evil works? I do.) Additionally, it appears that all skepticism has been put on hold and I subjected three WhatsApp groups and ten of my closest friends to a scam that claimed to give me free Emirates flights. WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME??? Where is the cynical silent cyber type we all know and love??? Or at the very least that we don’t dislike and block from the group?? (Which is no less than what I deserve, after the whole Emirates Embarrassment). I will have to take myself in hand. Or in boots, to go searching for work, and keep me out of harm’s way.

 

Evening

Good lord, the rain. Incessant, it is, and I do not have the footwear for this kind of carry on. My Dunnes Stores suede boots were not meant for this weather, and quite frankly I might as well not be wearing them. I am currently squelching around in sopping socks, that have, through some sort of capillary action, drawn the water up through my jeans to about knee level. It is most miserable and off-putting. Twice I have had to sacrifice my feet to such abuse, for more traipsing and mumbling about CVs. Most people are still being nice, although I can tell from their faces that they do not have the slightest notion of hiring me. I suppose I can’t start the moaning yet though- it has only been two days. I have also figured out that yesterday’s restaurant man is most likely to have said he has a 24 hour contract available, for which he will consider me, among others. I don’t fancy my chances. ‘Others’ sound highly accomplished and intimidating, with their presumed fluent French and lack of stammer. However, I am refusing point blank to apply for the jobs in these ‘clubs privé’ that keep popping up on the employment websites. They sound far too like strip clubs for my liking, and fortunately, we are not there yet.